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Illegal Fishing Is Costing Belize Millions and Undermining National Efforts At Sustainable Fisheries Efforts

The impact of illegal incursions into Belizean territory and marine environment have featured prominently in the conversations related to the Guatemalan claim to Belize and the highly anticipated ICJ vote. Irrespective of the outcome of the vote on May 8th, Belizeans everywhere should be concerned about the pillaging of our fisheries resources by foreign fisher folk and poachers given these illegal activities represent millions of dollars in economic loss and irrevocable damage to our world renowned marine environment. The consequences to both our commercial fisheries and tourism sector bodes ill for the Belizeans who depend on fishing and the tens of thousands of Belizeans who directly and indirectly depend on marine-based tourism activities for their livelihoods.

The BNN maintains that the impact of illegal fishing undermines Belizean jobs and threatens national food security interests.  This matter has been ignored for far too long.  We  therefore  call  on  the  Government of Belize, through the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and the Environment and the Ministry of National Security to address illegal fishing activities as a matter of national priority and to immediately undertake  all  necessary  steps  to  safeguard  the  Belizean  jobs  that  are  at  risk,  namely  the  15,000  commercial fishing related jobs, the 2,700 commercial fishing jobs and 2,100 sport fishing tourism jobs.

An investigative article published April 7th, 2019 in The Reporter under the headline: Guatemala’s Fishing Trade Spells Trouble for Belize, provides evidence of the large scale and daily incursions by Guatemalan gillnetters into Belizean waters; a decades-old and intensifying practice.  

Guatemalan fishers primarily utilize gillnets and research conducted in 2007 reveals that the catch and export  of  Belize’s  marine  resources  by  these  fisher folks  directly  to  Guatemalan  ports  have  escalated  dramatically every year. This most recent investigative report estimates that at present between 100,000 –  200,000  pounds  per  year  of  all  types  of  fish,  including  protected  species,  are  being  exported  to  Guatemala. That’s millions of dollars of seafood not being accounted for in Belize’s formal economy. The investigator has provided photos depicting fields of drying Belizean fish and rays, as well as giant barrels filled  with  salted  (corned)  Belizean  fish,  including  protected  sport fishing  species  like  the  Permit,  and  keystone species like shark, in Livingston, Guatemala.

In  2007, Dr. Rachel Graham documented the massive and illegal export of Belize’s sharks in her research paper, Vulnerability  Assessment  of  Sharks  and  Rays  in  Belize:  Captures  and  Trade.  The  paper,  commissioned by the World Conservation Society and permitted by the Fisheries Department, estimates that  1.7  million  pounds  of  whole  shark  and  nearly  26,000  pounds  of  shark  fins  were  exported  to  Guatemala  from  Belize  in  2007.  She  noted  that  “Sharks  in  Belize  are  scarce  where  they  were  once  abundant”. Do we dare imagine what current levels are now? As a keystone species, the health of shark populations is critical to the health of marine ecosystems.  These disturbing images demonstrate the magnitude of this invasion and highlights that negative impact it poses to Belizean fishers and Belize’s tourism industry.
Belize’s fishermen are acutely aware of these massive incursions by Guatemalan gillnetters. They indicate that Guatemalan fishing boats operate at night in Belizean waters (including within Marine Protected Areas) with miles of gillnets.

According  to  data  obtained  by  the  Coalition  for  Sustainable  Fisheries  from  the  Belize  Fisheries  Department, 83 fishers were licensed to use gillnets in Belizean waters in 2018. Hundreds of illegal and unlicensed fishers are believed to be using miles of gillnets on a regular basis at sea. The BNN notes the Coalition’s position that the 83 licensed Belizean fishers can be supported to transition away from this supplemental fishing gear. The Belize Coast Guard has already publicly stated that a phase-out/ban of gillnets would significantly boost enforcement efforts against illegal fishing activities.

For more information, contact Chair, Froyla Tzalam at 615-8532, or Senator Osmany Salas at 602-2535; [email protected]

Illegal Fishing Is Costing Belize Millions

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